Empathy Maps – what and how?

What drives us to make choices? As consumers, we can set certain parameters like “laundry in unit”, “no animal testing”, or “100% cotton”, but what makes us decide to commit?

As a small business owner – trying to do it all – you may not have the time to understand every individual customer. What makes them happy? What does their typical day look like? How do they like to spend their free time? What truly influences them to ultimately choose your product or service?

If you need a quick and easy, DIY research tool, try drafting an empathy map.


Developed by David Gray, founder of XPLANE, an empathy map can help you discover and understand the elements that make up your customer’s psyche. It draws on the idea that the choices we make are driven by feelings and emotions. This exercise can help you bridge the gap between what you’re offering and what your audience’s wants and needs are in their day to day lives.

A standard empathy map looks like this:

(Photo cred: Boagworld)

What you’ll need:

  • Personas and worldviews – what are those?
  • Demographics
  • Analytics – website or social media
  • Customer voices – testimonials
  • Questions to ask the group
  • Large poster board or white board
  • Sticky notes

Who you’ll need:

  • You – the moderator
  • Stakeholders
  • Product developers
  • Marketing and sales team
  • Customer support team

How to:

  1. Determine which customer you are trying to understand (name, sex, age, hobbies, lifestyle, etc.) – write the descriptors in the center
  2. Start asking the group questions from the customer’s point of view (in relation to your product or service):
    • Thinking/Feeling – What occupies their thoughts? How do they feel when using our product or service?
    • Seeing – What are their surroundings? What do they see in our competitors? What catches their eye?
      Hearing – What outside opinions are they listening to?
    • Saying/Doing – What is their overall demeanor? How would they react?
    • Pains/Gains (optional) – What are some of their obstacles? What’s distracting them? What is success to them? What are they hoping to achieve?
  3. Have all participants write notes and post them in the appropriate area on the map
  4. Summarize the session – have everyone answer this question:

Our users need a better way to (blank) because (blank) – Dr. James Patell

Your post-session map should look like this:

(Photo cred: Betterbydesignblog)

Use this tool at the beginning stages of product development, a redesign, a 2.0, or a shift in your marketing strategy. If you’ve involved all of your key players, their approach will become more customer centric. That next feature they want to add may better fit your customer’s needs, leading to higher satisfaction, and a potential boost in your ROI.


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